Life Enhancing Journeys - The high price of being too nice

How wonderful! This person is soooo nice. They are listening to everything I’m saying; agreeing with all of my opinions without challenging me; whatever favor I ask of them is met with an enthusiastic “YES” response. I am so fortunate to have met such an agreeable human being. But, wait a minute…can I really trust that their friendliness is authentic? What is their true motive for being so good-natured? Does it mean that they are expecting me to reciprocate? Although being so nice may help the “too nice” person avoid discomfort or help them feel good in the moment, it really is an unhealthy habit. This article will address how being overly nice hurts everyone. We then will focus on methods which enable us to adopt a more effective approach.

To begin, let’s identify what is meant by “too Nice” – when there is a consistent tendency for sacrificing one’s own needs and wants for others out of fear of causing conflict or disapproval.

As humans, we have an innate need to bond with others. This need was hard-wired into the brains in early humans. Without a clan or tribe with whom we were affiliated, survival would have been very difficult if not unlikely. At present, our Neanderthal brain is competing with our Evolved brain. This creates a battle between the need for connection versus the development and maintenance of one’s individuality. Learning how to live with the discrepancies in our primitive and sophisticated brain will help us to flourish and progress.

Nurture is also important; what we learned from our families of origin early in life. It’s reasonable that you recognized that the simplest way to get love was to be pleasing. When you were shunned, rejected or punished for your failures, your mistakes, or your flaws, you learned that demonstrating any evidence of imperfection will cause you pain, therefore it became necessary to conceal any blunders. You learned to please others in hopes that if you do it enough, are perfect enough, then others will love you. There is a tendency to take no risks, avoiding saying or doing anything that might offend or disappoint others, and if/when you do, you punish yourself unmercifully. You feel you deserve to be chastised, and you want to make sure you never make that mistake again.

 It has been my experience that being a nice person usually is perceived as a positive attribute however, being too nice causes complications in relationships, both for the giver as well as the receiver. It is often based on the concept that, “If I can be who you want me to be, then I will find acceptance and love, and my emotional needs will be met.” How can this be true? It is inevitable that this approach will fail.

I know this paradigm quite well. When Mark and I were in the early years of our relationship, whatever he would ask of me, I would say “yes” then fail to follow through with my agreement (my “yes” response was never thought out; it was simply a knee-jerk reaction). It sure created significant troubles for us. He would get mad and I would feel guilty and ashamed. It was pretty unpleasant for us both. Mark had his own way of being “too nice.” When I would ask him where he wanted to go to dinner, for example, he would tell me, “it doesn’t matter…you choose.” If my choice was different than he desired, he’d become resentful. This was among the problems Mark and I worked on in marriage counseling and I’m glad we did (and continue to do so).

Consider how detrimental this trait can be. How can you trust someone who is merely polite yet avoids being truthful? Think about your own experiences with various relationships. Can you recognize how being “too nice” could have been a way for someone to remain covertly protected, to avoid conflict, and to remain connected to others at any cost? The obvious complications to the person who is “too nice” are resentful feelings and a loss of identity.

Here is a list of signs you're being too nice 

1. The thought of letting someone down causes you dread

2. You will do anything to avoid conflict regardless of the cost to you

3. Going along with the crowd is your norm (regardless of wanting to avoid whatever they are doing);

4. When someone offers their opinion, you quickly agree without giving it much thought. You rarely express your own opinion

5. You never express your needs so they are rarely considered

6. You say “yes” often without considering your own needs

7. Resentment seems to be a recurrent feeling that you experience

8. “I’m sorry” is a frequent expression that you hear yourself saying

9. There are persistent feelings of depression, exhaustion, helplessness, fear, exploitation, worthlessness, and stress.

 Here are some ideas as to how to break away from the “too nice” paradigm:

 1. Reassure yourself that it’s ok to meet your own needs and put your own desires first. If you avoid taking care of yourself first, you will look to others to do it for you. This will taint your relationships because you are expecting something from others, and you will appear needy and manipulative.

2. Invest in yourself. Instead of trying to be the go-to person for everyone else, first take care of yourself. Allow all those unmet hopes and expectations (that others will accept and love you in return) to be turned inwards. Love and accept your unique individuality. Say “yes” when it is appropriate, and avoid what you don’t want to do.

3. Remind yourself that you’re a valuable person who’s worthy of love and affection simply because you exist, and start loving yourself. The more you reinforce the notions that you’re a valuable, lovable human being, and act accordingly, the more your behavior will shift away from the “too nice” person into a more confident and interesting person.

4. The paradox is that once you stop being obsessed with how to get other people to love you, it’s likely that they’ll start to appreciate you more than they ever have.

5. Be aware of how you approach people. Notice your posture. Are you looking down at your toes with your hands in your pockets? This demonstrates weakness and insecurity. Stand up straight. Develop good eye contact. Make yourself as large and tall as you possibly can. It gives the impression that you are confident without ever having to say a word.

6. Give yourself at least one breath, in and out, before you say or do anything. This enables you to respond instead of react.

7. Use a calm yet assertive voice. When you talk softly, others get the impression that you are feeling insecure and frightened. Keep your voice soothing yet firm, offering the appropriate amount of intensity. Be direct with what you want, then stop talking and listen.

8. Allow yourself to say “no” when it’s appropriate yet learn how to negotiate. Instead of an automatic “no” consider asking, “How about if…?”

 There essentially are two ways of being nice. Although they both can look the same on the outside, there is a significantly different motivation for each approach. One is coming from fear: “I need to be nice to you because it calms my anxiety associated with any potential conflict or rejection.” The other is: “I choose to be nice because I think it’s the appropriate choice based on my personal values.” Which one influences your choices?

 Remember, it’s impossible to please everyone. You’re not going to be abandoned if you start taking care of yourself first. It’s beneficial to invest in yourself, it’s empowering to say “no,” and it’s necessary to meet your own needs. You will be happier and better able to help others when you come from a place of strength rather than out of neediness or manipulation. Whatever you're doing or saying will be viewed as an act of kindness. By being nice to someone, you're doing it unconditionally, out of compassion and respect. When you are your authentic self, it’s easier to act in ways that will support your personal self, your well-being, your beliefs and boundaries and allows others to do the same.

[Barbara Pickholz-Weiner, RN, BSN, CACIII, MAC, EMDRII is the program director of Journeys Counseling Center, Inc. At Journeys we teach you tools, skills and help you discover resources to live the most effective life possible. We guide, support and coach you along the path you desire, to become the best version of yourself. To contact Barbara, call 719-687-6927 (office) or 719-510-1268 (cell).]